NOT SHINING A LIGHT ON OUR WILDLIFE

While no-one is suggesting a city such as London should be without the necessary light required for access and safety, the amount of unnecessary light is increasing and this is a serious issue for our wildlife.

Guidance on artificial lighting from the Bat Conservation Trust is intended to raise awareness of the impacts of artificial lighting on bats but also the potential solutions to avoid and reduce this harm.

The new 2018 guidelines supersede the previous 2009 guidance about lighting levels, now detailing the colour and temperature impacts on different bat species. 

Not only bats, but birds and mammals are adversely affected by artificial light as it interrupts breeding, migration and hunting patterns. Humans are also affected by the effect of the suppression of melatonin on our biological clocks. Whitelight sources (including LEDs) must be used with caution since, “These lights emit high levels of blue-ish light that not only interferes with our night vision and our own health, but also with the wellbeing of animals.  Other types of lighting, such as incandescent or highpressure sodium vapour lamps, produce high levels of reddish or even infrared light.  Their spectra interfere with the well-being of many types of plants.”  No living species ever evolved for continuous lighting so we should not be surprised that no species truly benefits from it.

The International Dark Sky Association has some useful tips for all of us in how to reduce our own unnecessary interior or exterior lighting. We can install motion sensors on all outdoor lights; turn off any lights at night that are not motion sensing and install window coverings that block out as much light as possible. The latter is particularly important for the increasing number of flat and house dwellers who live around the edges of our parks and waterways, many of whom follow the fashion for large windows without blinds or curtains, without apparently thinking about the consequences for river-dwelling wildlife.

Light pollution is one of the concerns that Save Lea Marshes (SLM) and other local groups have about the increasing development and commercialisation of our marshes and Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).  One particular concern is the prospect of two free schools and a nursery being built on land adjacent to the Middlesex and Essex Filter Beds, close to Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes, which already suffer from light spillage from all directions.

I took a walk around the Middlesex Filter Beds in the dark, as near to closing time as possible, to assess and photograph the amount of light pollution that is already creeping in, notably from relatively recent bright lighting on the Thames Water Depot site (which also shines out over the River Lea), and from the cranes on the 97 Lea Bridge Road development some distance along the Lea Bridge Road.  It is already at an unacceptable level. The proposal to build free schools on the Thames Water Site adjacent to the Nature Reserve is likely to seriously exacerbate the harms to the very wildlife the Waterworks Reserve seeks to encourage and preserve.

 

To explore the potential of light spillage from schools, you need look no further than Mossbourne Academy on Hackney Downs; the levels of light coming from this site are bad enough on a public park but would constitute a serious threat to an area such as the former Thames Water Depot which is adjacent to a nature reserve, particularly if they are left on all night for security reasons.

The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, its rangers and its volunteers, in cooperation with other agencies, undertake regular monitoring of bats, birds and other mammals within the park area, and its public website www.visitleevalley.org.uk  has information on activities such as the “Go Batty” walk which took place in August.  The website also has an area where anyone can report sightings of rare and unusual species in the park.  One such area is the Filter Beds, a setaside area which also includes an area where the public are not permitted, in order to promote the sustaining of wildlife.  Why then, has the LVRPA not been more active in protecting this part of their remit particularly when they are aware of the species within the reserve? Recent bird sitings in and around the filter beds include: Teal, Little Grebe, Common Sandpiper, Sparrow Hawk, Kingfisher and Kestrel. 

My online searches of specific investigations into the wildlife in the Middlesex Filter Beds came up with a Field Survey carried out by the London Bat Group, with the cooperation of the LVRPA in 2011, citing an historical database that was created i1985, with the last search being 2010(However, maybe due to my lack of diligence, I have been unable to find a subsequent similar survey of this particular area of the park.  There has, however, been a recent volunteer walk carried out by a park ranger in the Coppermill area of the Walthamstow Marshes as featured in the latest “Musings from the Marsh”).  It includes a map of the areas walked and a summary of the species of bat recorded since 1985.  These were:  the Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, Noctule, Daubenton’sLeislers, Serotine and Brown Long-eared.  Out of these, the Nasthusius’ Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubenton’s seem to be the ones that have been most recorded recently. The various types of Pipistrelle were recorded on two occasions 21st and 27th of September 2011. The Brown Long-eared Bat was last recorded in 1996 and none since. 

The Bat Survey of 2011 (4.2), comments on urban light levels surrounding the Waterworks Nature Reserve “Overall urban light reflected off clouds into site raises levels significantly above levels expected in rural areas.  Direct light spill from adjacent works, highways and residential areas limited to west and northern edge of sites.  Worst affected stations are 6 and 9 (both points are within the Essex Filter Beds adjacent to the current Thames Water Depot, where the schools are planned).  Levels at these points are likely to impact lightintolerant species such as Daubenton’s but not Pipistrelles”.  It should be noted that 2011 was pre- Olympics and the increased levels of development involving large lightproducing structures that can now be viewed around the perimeter, particularly from the Olympic park side of Hackney Marshes.  Also, it predates the latest findings of the Guidance from the Bat Conservation Trust mentioned earlier. 

I would argue that we should not be making matters worse by deliberating parking another set of highly illuminated buildings and school grounds adjacent to the Nature Reserve.

What examples are we giving to the next and future generations?  Our planet and our local eco-systems are being increasingly threatened.  We may not have the power to individually influence world issues but individually and collectively we can and should democratically object to developments which affect us locally.  The schools planned for the Lea Bridge Road site are not schools planned or needed by the local authority and are, in effect, private enterprises, being plonked by national government on an important local nature area.   It is time to say “no”.

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Thames Water Site – School Plans Progress to Planning

After 18 months of tinkering and shenanigans, it now seems likely that the extraordinary plans to build the “Athena  Primary Academy” and “Barclay Secondary Free School” on the Thames Water site, Lea Bridge Road, will soon go before Waltham Forest Council’s Planning Committee for approval.

Click to the link below for the latest version of the plans:

Latest Version of School Plans 

The developers are continuing to show misleading ‘before and after’ images on their promotional site http://www.leabridgedepot.co.uk/ , which show the existing dense vegetation of mature woodland along Lea Bridge Road retained in an identical state, and screening the site from the view of those passing on Lea Bridge Road.

The plans submitted in the past month disclose that over 50 trees will be felled and the woodland paved over.  The present linear woodland that provides such welcome relief from the urban grimness of the main road will be replaced with tarmac, a 2.4m fence and stark views onto the car park and vast school buildings beyond.

Here are the main planning issues that we have included in our objections:

  • The site is Metropolitan Open Land which has the strongest protection from development and which the London Plan clearly states should not be developed unless there are “special circumstances”. MOL sites are of strategic importance for all of London. The proposed development is not acceptable under current planning policy.
  • There are no “special circumstances” which could justify the proposed development: the pressure for new school places is a generalised pressure not a special circumstance, just as it is for housing or other infrastructure such as hospitals. In any event the pressure for school places is elsewhere in the borough.
  • The revised plans propose that almost all the existing woodland habitat with its mature trees along the Lea Bridge Road frontage will be removed, with an unacceptable negative impact on openness and visual amenity from the viewpoint where the largest number of people will be affected.
  • The site is flood plain and unsuitable for a school.
  • The site should be returned to the Lea Valley Park as intended and re-established as a vital part of the park: losing it would put a huge obstruction in the middle of an otherwise continuously wide green corridor and compromise the green chain both now and in the future, because the development of the site could lead to future attempts to develop in and around it.
  • The activity, noise and lighting associated with the schools will be harmful to the sensitive surroundings of wildlife habitat and Nature Reserves.
  • Though the applicant says there will be more green space as a result of the development, this will not be true green space but rather school playing fields of limited biodiversity value to which the public will be denied access. Were the site returned to green space parkland, this would be entirely green space and accessible to the public.
  • The Travel Plan is fundamentally flawed: it seeks to reduce local traffic impacts to an acceptable level, but this depends upon the assumption that all parking, dropping off and picking up will take place at the school and on the road outside, both of which will be restricted. However immediately opposite the proposed site the Ice Centre provides free parking for 30 minutes and will be ideal for parents dropping off and picking up, rendering ineffective the restrictions at the school itself. Five minutes’ walk away, unlimited free parking is available at the Waterworks and Riding Centre. It therefore grossly understates the increase in traffic that will be generated and associated congestion and pollution.
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The LVRPA and community engagement

Back in June I shared a letter I had written to Shaun Dawson, Chief Executive of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, about the Authority’s lack of community engagement. You can see the letter here: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/06/29/open-letter-to-lvrpa-re-lack-of-community-engagement/

 

In the spirit of fairness, I think I should also share Shaun’s response, which I received just under three weeks after I sent my original letter. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to do so; no excuses, I’ve just been really busy.

 

Shaun said, and I quote directly:

 

I am writing in response to your email of 28th June in which you set out a range of concerns in relation to the Authority’s approach to community engagement in the south of the Park. Authority Members received your letter and it was discussed at the Authority meeting on the 5th July. Members resolved to look at how the Authority engages with the many user groups and key stakeholders up and down the Lee Valley and this will be looked into in the coming months. My response below addresses the specific points that you raised in your letter.

 

The Ranger service continues to manage the range of Authority owned sites to a high standard and deliver local community engagement though various means in the Park. Please see attached a list of the community engagement activities and communication mechanisms in the south of the Park since January 2018 and also planned future events and activities for 2018/19.

 

The Lower Lee Valley sites continue to receive high scores for both Green Flag and London in Bloom, and in the latter case achieved best Conservation Area for London for the past 2 years. The awards are assessed by external judges from both the Green Flag and London In Bloom awards and we have fulfilled their community engagement criteria.

 

In addition the Authority consults local groups and the wider community on its Park Development Framework (PDF) proposals for the Regional Park as these are developed. Currently the Authority is consulting on draft strategic policies and a landscape strategy for the whole Park and area proposals for specific areas of the Regional Park which lie north of the M25 motorway. All of these documents are available on the Authority’s website (http://www.leevalleypark.org.org.uk) or can be seen in hard copy at several venues across the Regional Park.

 

Public consultation has recently taken place on the draft Lee Valley Regional Park Biodiversity Action Plan, the outcome of this will be published soon. Comments from Save Lea Marshes have been noted through this process. The Authority will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to develop and deliver the specific action plan targets.

 

The previous user forums in the south of the Park were not always well attended. We therefore decided to look at a more effective approach to community engagement. The workshops were created to focus the meetings on specific aspects of site management and to better inform the public about the Park’s rationale for its management regimes. Natural England attended the grassland workshop to provide a clearer understanding of the Park’s grassland management regime. During the workshops we discussed how and why we managed all of the different habitats present on site as well as other site operational issues, which was the specific aim of the workshops from the beginning. The workshops were an opportunity for members of the public to raise questions and provide feedback relating to the topics discussed on the agendas. During the workshops suggestions, questions and opinions were invited for consideration, were responded to and if appropriate were implemented.

 

We also took the decision to run a series of site management walks, inviting members of the general public as well as local user groups to attend and discuss relevant management issues with the Ranger while on site. In addition to this we continue to run several Ranger ‘drop in’ sessions each year. We have engaged with many more users through this format of community engagement and receive a greater level of response and insight into the views of the visitors to the Marshes than through the previous forum meetings. The Ranger ‘drop ins’ and walkabouts are in our opinion a more efficient and effective form of community engagement. The participants of the former workshops/ forum continue to be contacted via a mailing group, updating them on site management of the marshes, as well as receiving a quarterly newsletter. All FOI requests received have been responded to. Furthermore the site Ranger for the Marshes has always shown a willingness to meet informally around prearranged walks to discuss any management issues they may arise.

 

Our events and activities are advertised on the Visit Lee Valley Website, What’s On guide, Information Boards and via Lee Valley Regional Park social media. The site Ranger also regularly tweets information regarding the Park and events and has 840 followers and growing. Events and activities are mentioned in the mailing group and the events and activities are also included in the quarterly newsletter which the mailing group receive.

 

In your letter you also made reference to the £75k investment which was borne out of the temporary use of Leyton Marsh for the 2012 Olympics. I am advised by officers that SLM were involved in the process for determining how the investment was to be spent including being part of the panel that approved the artist and artwork for the mural.

 

The Authority does, it believes, devote significant time and energy to engaging the many interested parties in the south of the Park, as the attached list illustrates. That said it is important that we review how we do engage and look at ways to be more effective. Over the coming months we shall carry out such a review.

 

It was heartening to hear that the Authority is taking our concerns seriously, although we have heard absolutely nothing on the matter in the last three months, and so I can’t help thinking this is another hollow promise.

 

What was disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, is the fact that the LVRPA continues to argue that what we have experienced, what we have witnessed, what we know to be true isn’t true. For example, while it is absolutely true that members of Save Lea Marshes were involved with the underpass mural project, it is not true to say that we have been ‘involved with the process for determining how the [ODA] money was spent’, and this blog post will explain why: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/.

 

As for his comments about the forum, workshops and ranger drop-ins, here’s what one friend, who used to attend the forum and the workshops, says in reponse:

 

“It’s so convenient for them to keep saying that all the good stuff happens on the ranger drop-ins, when there is no documentation, no reporting, no follow-up. The LVRPA can say anything it wants about what is said by people who happen to pass along during the drop-ins. The forum was for all about having proper discussions about issues and attempting to have some input into LVRPA policy. Obviously, the LVRPA prefers the drop-ins because they aren’t for that at all. The forum was all about consultation, the drop-ins are not.”

 

I am conscious that different optics produce different perspectives but surely the only way for any organisation to better serve its customers or clients is to listen to them? And I’m very clear in my mind that the LVRPA exists to manage the land within the Park on our behalf; that the LVRPA does work for us. I just wish it behaved as if it did sometimes, and listened to us.

 

Abigail Woodman

 

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Aural Impact

This Save Lea Marshes blog is about sounds. We are contrasting the sounds of birdswith noise generated by a primary school at a similar distance from the area we seek to protect. The birdsong is currently experienced as you walk from the Friends Bridge on Hackney Marshes, along the path that currently divides the Clancy Docwra works on the Thames Water site from the Lea Valley Nature Reserve. It is an alternative pleasant walk and cycle route off the Lea Bridge Road.

It has been long hoped that once the necessary water-engineering works had been completed, the site would return as part of the green lung of the Lea Valley and its heritage buildings put to good use for supporting people and wild-life interests. However, before any ideas were able to be considered, the Government’s Education Funding Authority bought the site for the use of two free schools and possibly a nursery. The situation currently hangs in the balance before a future Waltham Forest Council Planning Committee.

There are many valid reasons why this site is unsuitable for schools but the purpose of this blog is to bring home the aural impact on wildlife that two schools would have on the surrounding areas of the Middlesex Filter Beds, the Nature Reserve and Hackney Marshes, and the effects it will have on the quiet enjoyment of people who come to these areas to enjoy open space, activities, to experience peace and watch and listen to birds…
The sound of children can be joyous, but what are we teaching our children if the buildings in which they are to learn have a detrimental effect on the very nature we all need to exist?

Furthermore, these schools are not planned by the local authority to meet local educational needs — they are private enterprises to be run as a business. There is a difference, there is a choice.

This is the sound that you can hear along the path currently: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Birdsong.m4a

This is the sound that might replace it: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/School-Children-Noise.m4a

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Bearing Witness

Yesterday, Save Lea Marshes bore witness to the Lee Valley Regional Park’s continued attempts to commodify our open green spaces. We went to look at the temporary campsite at the Waterworks Centre.

What shocked me most was the infrastructure. The campsite is home to students competing in Shell’s Eco-marathon, which is taking place at the Olympic Park, for a week. But the site is so much more than a few portaloos and some tents. There are ranks of trailers containing flushing loos and showers. There are huge bladders containing fresh water, carried to the site by tankers, and equally large pipes carrying away the waste matter. There are arc lights to ensure everyone can move around the site without torches. There are huge communal tents for cooking and eating, and temporary roadways so that the team’s equipment can be ferried to and from their tents by vehicle. Lots of rented lorries are parked, not in the car park, which is empty but closed to the general public, but on the grass behind the Waterworks Centre. And the staff and students have full use of the Waterworks Centre, which is also closed to the public for the duration.

We spoke to one of the site managers and I asked if all the infrastructure was really necessary. Well, he said, Shell does want it to be more than a rough and ready campsite. They want the facilities to be something special. So our meadow has been mown to within an inch of its life, the land compacted and polluted with vehicles and the wildlife disturbed because some people who are visiting for a week must be especially comfortable. Is it fair that the needs of a few are put before the needs of a whole community?

One of the things Save Lea Marshes is particularly concerned about is the closure of the footpath that runs from the Waterworks Centre down the eastern side of the Nature Reserve and along the southern side of the Nature Reserve to Friends’ Bridge and Hackney Marshes. We raised this with Councillor Chris Kennedy, Hackney’s representative on the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), and he contacted Vibrant Partnership who are renting the land on behalf of the LVRPA. This is the response he received:

When Vibrant started to discuss with Imagination (the operations company providing the campsite for the Shell event) they discussed the possibility of moving the whole site so that it all was on the south/east of the permissive footpath, thus allowing for the continued use of the permissive footpath. Early discussions looked promising and this could have been done for the camping part of the site, by moving the fence 4-5m from the previous years’ location, so away from the path. Security of the site may have been compromised potentially but we were all willing to consider this fully.

Unfortunately  due to the bins, toilets and shower blocks, potable water supply and access to the in-ground services we were not able to move the compound and provide less space for the camping element. You will see from the plans that there is infrastructure associated with the welfare of the students. This area includes regular daily movements of lorries and other vehicles to manage waste and water. The turning area is close to the site security and a safe distance away from living quarters of the campers but is adjacent to the footpath, therefore we could not split the site as the security for access to the site is at the gates adjacent to the ‘paddock’ and could not reasonably be split and is shown on the plan

We understand the footpath is a well-used link and we are mindful of this when hosting events, unfortunately for this event we have had to close the route for the duration.

Which reads as if Vibrant Partnerships and the LVRPA did everything they could to keep the footpath open, but the company setting up the campsite refused. We asked the site manager we spoke to about this and he was very clear. It would have been perfectly possible to keep the footpath open. They have more than enough space to the south of the footpath, and could have designed the site so that everything, including the lorries parked behind the Waterworks Centre, was to the south of the footpath. So why wasn’t this done? If I am being kind, I might postulate that Vibrant Partnerships just aren’t very good at contract negotiation. But the cynic in me suspects that the LVRPA never had any intention of ensuring the footpath was kept open. It is in their interest to get us used to being shut out of the land, so that we don’t object so much when they try to sell the land. It allows them to flex their muscles and draw a distinction between public rights of way and the footpaths they insist, at every opportunity, are permissive. This ignores, of course, their statutory duty to develop, improve, preserve and manage the land for leisure and recreation. That, surely, requires them to keep well-used footpaths – regardless of whether they are official rights of way or not – open for people to use.

The campsite will be gone in just over a week, but its legacy will live on. It is up to us to decide whether that legacy is positive or negative. Personally, I’m going to harness the pain I feel when I see the heras fencing patrolled by G4S security guards and channel it into efforts to stop the LVRPA selling this land. This land is our land.

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Open Letter to the LVRPA re Lack of Community Consultation

Dear Shaun Dawson,

We are writing to express our ongoing dismay at the LVRPA’s continuing erosion of meaningful community engagement in the lower Lea Valley, particularly with regards to Walthamstow Marsh, Leyton Marsh and the Waterworks and Filter Beds Nature Reserve. We are copying in Michele Walde, because we think it important that Keep Britain Tidy is aware that the LVRPA is not fulfilling this important Green Flag criterion.

Back in 2012, the LVRPA met regularly with local people through the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum. The Forum meetings were well-attended, and allowed lively, free-flowing discussions about the issues of the day. By 2013, the Forum meetings had been replaced by Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops, where LVRPA staff delivered presentations on issues they deemed pertinent and local people were allowed to ask questions at the end. These became increasingly infrequent and, by 2016, sit-down meetings had been replaced altogether with occasional ranger walkabouts, which are given a different name each time. While wandering about the marshes with the ranger is a legitimate activity, their sporadic nature and the fact that there are no records of the conversations means that issues raised are easily forgotten and the LVRPA is able to sidestep responding to real and continuing concerns raised by the local community about the way the marshes are managed.

2012 was a difficult year for the LVRPA’s relationship with the users of Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, because of the way in which the LVRPA offered up large swathes of the marshes to the Olympics. Opposition to the LVRPA’s actions was vehemently expressed at meetings of the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum, and it is difficult not to conclude that the Forum was disbanded precisely because it was an effective way for local people to express their dissatisfaction with the LVRPA. Promises that Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops would better enable the LVRPA and local people to work more closely on specific issues came to nothing. We remember the disappointment we felt when we attended a meeting at which we thought we would be looking at mowing regimes, discussing the evidence for and against the various options, only to have to sit through another ’this is what we have been doing’ presentation. And now even these presentations have been taken away from us.

The Walthamstow Marshes User Forum was generally well attended. It is, therefore, erroneous for the LVRPA to claim, as it has done in the past, that the User Forum and the Site Management Workshops were halted because of poor attendance. If numbers did dwindle, perhaps local people, realising that they weren’t being listened to, voted with their feet? Furthermore, the ranger walkabouts are not advertised beyond the LVRPA website, despite local people continually pointing out that the people most interested in working with the LVRPA to manage the marshes are most responsive to information about events if they stumble across it when they are out and about, and that more use must be made of the noticeboards on the marshes.

Since 2012 we have raised these matters with you on numerous occasions. Each time you have purported to agree with the points we raise, and have promised that things will change. Yet nothing changes for the better. The LVRPA seems more and more afraid of critical friends and a recent Freedom of Information request reveals that the LVRPA does not have a policy on consulting local users. Why is that? Local people have a wealth of knowledge and experience about the marshes – about mowing regimes, habitat management and the management of invasive species, for example – and they are desperate to share their expertise with the LVRPA. Why, then, does the the LVRPA continue to shun these offers of help, to actively discourage those who want to work alongside your organisation to secure the long-term sustainable future of the open green spaces that are so central to our health and well-being?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the LVRPA’s fear of scrutiny? After the Olympics, the LVRPA was given £73,000 to pay for ‘Leyton Marsh enhancement works’ and £75,000 to fund ’the final reinstatement works on Sandy Lane and ongoing management works on Leyton Marsh’. Local people were adamant that they should have a say in how this money was spent and the LVRPA appeared to agree, with the User Forum becoming the de facto decision-making body. And then the User Forum was disbanded. Local people are still trying to find out how the money they feel belongs to them, as compensation for what happened in 2012, has been spent and a summary of the situation can be found here: http://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/

Local people, who value Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, have always been open to repairing and improving their relationship with the LVRPA. We hope this email will be a catalyst for much-needed and long-awaited change.

With best wishes

Abigail Woodman and Vicky Sholund, on behalf of Save Lea Marshes

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River Lea Oil Spill: Authorities must adopt a new approach to prevent future disasters

– AN OPEN LETTER TO –
Government and Opposition:

Environment Agency:
• Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive
• Dr Toby Willison, Executive Director of Operations
• Sarah Chare, Director Operations South East
• Simon Hawkins, Deputy Director Hertfordshire & North London Canal & River Trust
• Richard Parry, Chief Executive
• Peter Birch, Group Environment Manager
• Jon Guest, Waterway Manager in London
• Nick Smith, National Waste and Contamination Surveyor, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA):
• Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Food
& Rural Affairs (EFRA)

Committee:
• Neil Parish MP, Chair Environmental Audit Committee (EAC):
• Mary Creagh MP, Chair Labour Party:
• Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• David Lammy MP, Tottenham
• Dianne Abbott MP, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Shadow Home Secretary
• Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South & Shoreditch

The River Lea flows south from the Chiltern Hills through East London to the River Thames, and is a major source of London’s drinking water. The Lea Valley is home to over 200 bird species, over 35 species of mammal and over 500 species of plant; all of which are under persistent threat from contaminated waste entering the river at Pymmes Brook.

On Sunday 11th February 2018, the River Lea saw its worst – but by no means only – incident of waste crime in recent history when used engine oil entered the river at Pymmes Brook. The slow emergency response by both the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust enabled the contamination to spread up- and downstream over five miles of waterway.

By the Environment Agency’s own calculations, over 78,000 litres of oil-polluted water has been removed from the contaminated area since the incident. The Swan Sanctuary rescued more than 30 swans and other waterbirds. Many other animals died. There were already 40 swans in care at The Swan Sanctuary following another recent pollution event from Pymmes Brook on 28th December 2017 – otherwise admissions in February 2018
would likely have exceeded 70.

Local residents, businesses, rowers, walkers, tourists and live-aboard boaters have been subject to harmful fumes, along with the sight of dead and contaminated wildlife; not to mention the toxic waste itself. Some local river-based businesses and organisations have had no option but to cease operations during this time.

A boater and Canal & River Trust joint volunteer clean-up effort was undermined when hazardous waste held in unsealed tonne bags, including
dead animals, was left on public towpaths uncollected by the Environment Agency for over three weeks.

Volunteers have noted the Environment Agency’s proactive work at the source of the spill, as well as the initial dedication of a handful of Canal & River Trust staff on the ground. It is, however, over one month since the incident and volunteers are still organising regular clean-up operations with no support from the Environment Agency or the Canal & River Trust.

After one month, the oil spill has still not been contained or cleaned. Throughout this environmental disaster communication between agencies and the affected communities has been substandard, and has fallen short of the most basic expectations:

• No clarity between Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust’s responsibilities
• No evidence of an emergency response contingency plan or strategy
• Insufficient briefing of Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers
• No proactive or clear communication with boat licence holders, rowing clubs or marinas
• No education of towpath users or local businesses
• Lack of clean-up resources available to boaters and volunteers
• Failure to close waterways quickly and the premature reopening of Hertford Union Canal leading to spread of the contamination.

The Canal & River Trust has acknowledged they “deal with on average six pollution events each year relating to the discharges from Pymmes Brook”. Why then were authorities so unprepared to cope with this major incident?

The Canal & River Trust’s purpose is “to act as guardian for the canals and rivers of England and Wales – ensuring that history, nature and communities are central to everything we do.” The Environment Agency “protect and improve the quality of water, making sure there is enough for people, businesses, agriculture and the environment.”

We, the Undersigned, call upon the Addressees to provide:

• Explanations – Why was an environmental disaster neither acted upon immediately, nor respective actions clearly communicated?• Transparency – We call on the Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust to share publicly their waste crime response and communication strategy, including roles and responsibilities and allotted emergency budget.

• Improvements – We demand an inter-agency investigation and root cause analysis of the February 2018 River Lea Oil Disaster and clean-up response. Lessons learnt and future measures to prevent and cope with disasters of such nature should be shared publicly.

• Accountability – We call on DEFRA, EAC and the EFRA select committee to hold the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to account for their handling of this disaster and to consider whether the agencies are adequately funded to meet their public objectives.

• Scrutiny – A process established whereby charities and community groups can review the approach to water quality and pollution management
within the Lea Valley.

Online petition and photos: bit.ly/leadisaster

Signed,

Lea Boaters Collective

Thames21

The Green Party

Save Lea Marshes

London Waterkeeper

The Swan Sanctuary

NBTA London

Moo Canoes

Alfred Le Roy

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